With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:
Overview: From top to bottom cornerback remains one of the team’s strongest positions groups, and that was bolstered by the re-signings of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, in addition to the club acquiring Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech with a first-round draft pick.
All three of those players should see time on the field together, but the Bears still feel they need capable reinforcements.
“You need to have multiple corners,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “A lot of the defenses we have to play, that we’re required to play nowadays in the National Football League, are sub packages with three corners or corner types in the game. Typically, at least half of the snaps you’ll play in the season will be with five defensive backs in the game. And sometimes, you’ll go into game weeks or games and almost every single snap will be in sub personnel. So there are ample opportunities for guys to show what they can do and become a contributor to a productive rotation. A third corner is like a starter. A third corner plays as much if not more than your third linebacker in a 4-3."
That means Fuller and Jennings will spend plenty of time shuffling on and off the field, depending on the situation. During organized team activities and minicamps, Jennings played opposite Tillman in the starting lineup. But when the team went into sub packages on passing downs, Fuller moved out opposite Tillman and Jennings kicked inside to the nickel spot. More than likely, that look isn’t yet set in stone as OTAs and minicamps are the time to experiment. What is clear, though, is the Bears expect Fuller to contribute immediately as a rookie.
Battle to watch: The Bears finished last season with five corners, and it appears right now the top four spots could be locked up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, and Kelvin Hayden with the fifth spot up for grabs. Isaiah Frey would seem to be the most likely candidate to win that fifth spot considering he spent the entire 2013 season as the nickel, with six starts, and played out the year with a broken hand. Frey contributed 47 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. But the Bears wanted turnovers from the nickel spot, and Frey was unable to deliver.
Frey will have to hold off players such as Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, Derricus Purdy, C.J. Wilson and Sherrick McManis, a star on special teams, who shows plenty of potential at corner. Although Hayden appears to be a frontrunner for that fourth corner spot, it’s worth nothing he missed all of last season due to a severe hamstring injury. Hayden's health is a concern.
Dark horse: An undrafted rookie, Louis-Jean declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season at Boston College. Louis-Jean played 10 games as a freshman in 2011 and started two of them, contributing 15 tackles, three pass breakups a forced fumble and an interception. But Louis-Jean lost the entire 2012 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot. He came back last season to post 21 tackles, break up a pass and force a fumble in 11 games, but was suspended for the season opener against Villanova and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl for violating team rules.
Louis-Jean attended Chicago’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and caught the staff’s eye enough for the team to take him to training camp.
If the former four-star recruit pans out, the Bears will have come away with somewhat of a steal. At the same time, Louis-Jean could find difficulty flashing his ability in such a crowded race at a well-stocked position.
Who makes the cut: If the Bears stick with five corners, they’ll likely wind up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, Hayden and Frey at the conclusion of camp. But they’ll probably wind up keeping McManis as a contributor on special teams.